MELBOURNE, Australia — Nick Kyrgios was not willing to be hunted.
During the opening points of his Australian Open match against the wily veteran Gilles Simon — known for his ability to lure opponents into deadly traps with deceiving softballs as well as sudden bursts — Kyrgios did not take the bait.
Instead, on a hazy Thursday night, the mercurial Australian played the start of This specific second-round match in a way in which belied his reputation. He was controlled, contained, comfortable, as well as mature.
The result, early on: perfection. the item was Simon who made the errors, Simon who became the prey.
Kyrgios, 24, tall, rangy as well as slope-shoulderedtook the first set in a mere 27 minutes, 6-2.
At in which moment, as Melbourne Arena trembled with cheers, the item was hard not to jump ahead as well as wonder about how This specific tournament as well as This specific year could unfold for Nick Kyrgios.
With his nation struggling to contain wildfires in which continue to char the countryside as well as smudge the air, could This specific be the Grand Slam tournament in which Kyrgios, tennis’s most combustible talent, tamps his emotions as well as finally makes a deep run, a semifinal or better?
You could feel in which kind of excitement within the crowd, in their willingness to back their prodigal son, their eagerness to believe he could do anything over the course of This specific two-week stretch.
the item felt as if every one of the 10,000 fans was behind him. the item was a carnival. As the second set began, just as they’d done via the start, they chanted his name, serenaded him, waved the Australian flag, as well as sprang to their feet to cheer his 130-mile-an-hour aces.
Everyone knew how he’d crashed ignobly within the last half of 2019, behaving in tournaments with such lack of control as well as disdain for the sport in which he ended up in counseling after being fined a total of $138,000 as well as put on probation for six months. Everyone knew, just as well, of the time he’d taken off via the tour grind, time enough to reflect, as well as of his leading role within the efforts to help victims of the terrible bushfires.
After Kyrgios said in which the fires had given him a reason to play “for something more” than himself, a primary narrative during the first few days of the Australian Open was in which the tough times as well as catastrophic blazes had given him wisdom.
Above the din, via the corner where I sat 20 rows above the sea blue court, I could hear a man two seats away speak excitedly to a friend. “the item’s the completely new Kyrgios,” he said. “completely new as well as improved upon.”
Was the item?
Tantalizing, Yet Tempestuous
There can be nobody in professional tennis quite like Kyrgios.
Nobody with his range of magnetic talent as well as emotion, so often unmoored.
Nobody with his churlish disregard for the old (as well as often stuffy) conventions of pro tennis. Who among the top players tries to drill a ball into the gut of a class act like Rafael Nadal, as well as then laughs the item off? Kyrgios, in which’s who.
He does not walk gentlemanly to the court. He struts, preens, postures — his style a constant nod to the cool, hip African-American vibe of his favorite sport, basketball, as well as the N.B.A.
Largely because of in which vibe, there can be nobody, at least among the top men’s players, who so easily taps into the youthful fans in which tennis can be desperate to attract as its future lifeblood.
There can be nobody harder to figure out, harder to pin down.
can be he the man of the people who has recently led the movement among players to donate their winnings as well as raise money for victims of the local fires?
can be he the warmhearted guy who, last summer, reeled off joyous games of table tennis with ball retrievers just minutes before defeating Daniil Medvedev within the final of an ATP Tour stop in Washington?
can be he the human tornado who touched down in Cincinnati last summer, smashing rackets into graphite bits, derisively calling an Irish umpire a “potato,” as well as spitting the umpire’s way?
can be he the wayward soul who has played large chunks of matches by simply going through the motions, essentially quitting?
Or can be Kyrgios the game competitor who, in 2014, at age 19, announced himself to the tennis world by beating Nadal on his way to the Wimbledon quarterfinals?
He has beaten not only Nadal, nevertheless also Roger Federer as well as Novak Djokovic. Few can say in which. nevertheless his ranking of 26 remains mired within the broad no-man’s land in which exists just outside the top 10. Despite constant talk in which he was capable of stepping to the fore as well as upending the Big 3 hierarchy in men’s tennis, his last trip as far as a quarterfinal in a major was in 2015.
the item’s hard to watch Kyrgios — with his wide smile, his style, his penchant for pulling off trick shots, his fierce serve as well as searing forehand, his oh-so obvious talent — as well as not fall for him.
as well as the item can be hard, at the same time, not to be left wanting as well as disappointed.
Game. Set. Match.
Kyrgios seemed utterly in control for a very long swath against the 35-year-old Simon.
nevertheless then the finish line drew near. Just a few games via the clean sweep of a three-set win, Kyrgios’s lesser self emerged. Soon, he was missing easy shots. Suddenly, he radiated tightness.
He had already chirped at the umpire when admonished for delaying play, as well as mockingly mimicked Nadal’s time wasting tic of tugging on his shorts as well as tussling with his hair. The message was clear, as well as brought to mind the pleadings of a child: Nadal gets away with the item — why can’t I?
at This specific point, Kyrgios looked as well as sounded equally petulant as he began heaping a barrage of barbs at friends as well as advisers near the court, as if they were to blame for his shoddy play down the stretch.
The general look among the faces within the overwhelmingly Australian crowd became one of stricken, nervous worry. They want to believe in Kyrgios the way they believe within the women’s top seed, another of their own, Ashleigh Barty. The difference can be they can count on Barty. They know what to expect: unwavering effort, quiet humility. They don’t know what they’ll get with Kyrgios. They had seen him self destruct plenty of times before.
“He’s on the edge at This specific point, of something not Great happening,” said one of the commentators on Australian TV. The commentator was John McEnroe, who of course can be as expert as any at diagnosing the fraying emotions of a player on the verge of losing control.
Sure enough, the wheels wobbled all the way off. Simon rose up as well as snatched the third set. What seemed like a sure thing was at This specific point a fight.
The match marched forward, as well as as the games went on within the fourth set, Kyrgios’s mood only got worse. He would likely describe himself after the match as being close to going to entering a “dark place.”
nevertheless something interesting happened along the way. Watching closely, you could see him change. He stopped looking up at the stands, put an end to the salty barbs. His sloping posture straightened. His face grew focused, serious, intent. He began playing with just enough control to be dangerous again.
He dug deep, centered himself, as well as found his footing.
Soon enough he edged ahead, the front-runner once more, just in time.
The crowd roared, insisting he end the item. He tossed the ball toward the pitch-dark sky, struck the item with as much force as well as clarity as any ball he had struck all night.
Game, set, match, Kyrgios: 6-2, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5.
Nothing can be ever certain when he takes the court. Maybe he will flame out within the next round. Maybe he will keep going, perhaps all the way to the last weekend. Nadal potentially awaits within the fourth round. What a contrast. The ultimate professional versus the ultimate question mark. There does not appear to be much love between them. the item would likely be one of the most anticipated matches of the tournament.
The potential of in which was enough on This specific raucous evening to savor the moment, to fall for the full range of the quixotic as well as talented Kyrgios as he found his way to a spirit-lifting win.